Australian Space Agency boss believes the nation can be a central location for launches

A combination of the right skills, organisations, and customers will help put Australia's space sector at the front of the space race, Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo says.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

As the head of the Australian Space Agency (ASA), Enrico Palermo believes even though the local space sector is still in its early days, it is an industry that is starting to earn its stripes, especially given the role Australia previously played in other major space expeditions.

"I think we sometimes describe ourselves too much as an emerging space sector. We have an agency that is only three years old, but we've got a really tremendous heritage to build on as part of the story that we need to tell more," he said, speaking as part of a virtual Stone and Chalk event on Wednesday.

Palermo highlighted that government has a crucial role to play in helping Australia's space sector succeed. Besides offering funding grants to companies looking to start up in the space sector, government can also be an anchor customer, he said.

"Because it is proven out to be a successful model," Palermo said.

"In other jurisdictions, in fact we just saw in the last couple of weeks … the German government be a customer for an upstart launch company … by buying a couple of their flights. It's a model around the world that I certainly hope we can emulate here."

On the skills front, Palermo said having vocational training technicians, such as those who specialise in wiring harnesses or friction stir welding, are equally important as having engineers and scientists for the sector to succeed.

Meanwhile, as Main Sequence general partner Bill Bartee puts it, all it takes is a bit of ambition to get involved.

"I would point out to you that often times you don't need to be an expert in a particular area in order to be successful," he said.

"If we just go back to Elon Musk, I'm not sure how much he knew about space before he decided to create SpaceX -- he probably knew a lot -- but here's a guy who had huge ambition, a lot of drive, put a team around him … to make it work and this was his sort of his life's work … having the drive, the ambition, and the will to do something I think is most important."

Palermo is optimistic that having a combination of the right skills, organisations, and customers, Australia will be a standout competitor in the international space race, and eventually be a central location for space launches.

"We have great locations that can access certain inclinations of orbits, we've got large unpopulated areas, a stable geopolitical climate, a great talent base, and several launch sites around the world are starting to reach capacity, so I think both for domestic providers, like Gilmour and others, I think there's a big market opportunity to go after," he said.

At the same time, growing Australia's space sector is expected to deliver benefits to regional Australia too, Palermo said. He pointed to the work being carried out by Microsoft and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, as an example. 

The two companies announced that they are using GPS satellite tags to electronically track feral cows in the Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and Upper Normanby and Archer River on Queensland's Cape York Peninsula, to allow Indigenous rangers to take targeted actions to protect the local environment and important cultural sites.

"We want to be known as a nation that is very intelligent around the use of space data to solve some of our greatest challenges. Some of our greatest challenges are in the regions … so I think there are some amazing breadths of opportunities to use space to improve regional life, obviously communications and others," Palermo said.

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